Thursday, March 9, 2017

Something about Old Houses Turned Into Restaurants in Metro Manila

Will Fly for Food
I love eating in posh, modern restaurants (who doesn't) but there is definitely something else when you eat in old houses turned into restaurants in Metro Manila. First thing is, you always begin to "feel" the history of the place once you step inside. You try to imagine how the former residents had lived there.

Last night we were treated to dinner at Bagoong Club on Dr. Lazcano Street in Diliman, Quezon City, just a few minutes from Tomas Morato. Outside it looked very much like any old house in the area except that it announced a curious sounding resto business (although the facade didn't look that exciting. See image on the left).

Some eateries tickle your appetite at first glance even a mile away. With Bagoong Club, my very first thought was, "A house?"

I mean, from afar it wasn't impressive. But up-close, after parking the car and alighting, you'd see how it actually looks good at night with the lighting effect and a homey welcome at the entrance. You'd feel you were specially invited as a guest for dinner at a home where the mom did the cooking. And traditional moms cooked awesome traditional food dishes.

Yet, hearing the resto for the first time, I wondered whether the chow there would be a nice dining experience---would we eat nothing but bagoong food dishes? That would be boring. But at the same time, something in the nook and cranny of your brain told you the menu would probably be something very innovative and creative. I mean, just look at the interior of the reception.
How the place looked at night.
Image from Jay Jay Lucas

They made a cozy reception area of the living room with framed pictures all over the walls boasting of celebrities who have dined there---I saw pics of President Duterte, the late German Moreno, Pauline Luna, Cory Quirino (I think), and many others. The living room set reminded me of my lola's house in Bulusan and the blend of various wood planks against the concrete walls created a soft, homey ambiance.

Hmm, the place was impressive after all. Too bad I and my wife forgot to bring our cams!

Now, for the menu. Have you ever heard of "Puro Kababuyan"? That's how they named one portion of their pork menu. It easily caught our attention and soon found the rest of the menu amusing. But sometimes, that's the problem with amusing menus---it's hard to decide what to experiment on. It was both exciting and risky. What if it turned out bad? So we tried those that still sounded somewhat traditional---Crunchy Dinuguan, Bulalong Mungo, Crunchy Insalada (the best), Kare-Kare, Okoy, and of course, Binagoongan Rice.

Tsinoy Foodies
Strips of chilled and crunchy turnips were served as appetizers with interesting selections of bagoong in two flavors and shades. I used to buy something like this in the streets of La Loma when I was in grade school, but his was definitely a leveled up, improved, posher version. And appetize my palate, it did!

I loved how the Okoy was presented like a fountain on freeze mode, the long, crunchy strips of camote (with crunchy shrimps in between) serving as "shooting water." The concocted vinegar dip that came with it was "ulam" enough with rice. You can see tiny herb particles floating that enriched the flavor better.

I loved everything, but what we ate at KAMBAK in Sto. Tomas, La Union was still something else.

Anyway, after dinner, I tried to look around Bagoong Club. What looked like its former side garage was turned into an elegant dining area. Looking for the men's restroom, I was led upstairs where I took a peek at some rooms with their doors slightly opened, but it was too dark inside to see anything. They were probably offices. Then I imagined how they had been used as bedrooms by their former occupants. At the same time, I remembered how people say old houses hide some spooky mysteries in them. All old houses look strange and mysterious and can easily stimulate the naughty thoughts of a curious mind.

By the way, there are other old houses in Metro Manila which have been tuned into restaurants. You shouldn't miss La Cocina de Tita Moning on San Rafael Street in San Miguel, Manila near Malacanang and the office I used to work in. Casa Roces is another one in the same vicinity, at the corner of JP Laurel and Aguado. Cafe Ysabel in San Juan. And Ninyo Fusion Cuisine & Wine Lounge on Esteban Abada Street, Loyola Heights in Quezon City. Just to name a few.

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For Hotels in Quezon City.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

What I Discovered in Sto. Tomas and San Fernando La Union

KAMBAK Restaurant serving
mouthwatering Ilocano cuisines.
La Union is the province that links Pangasinan to the North, especially to Ilocos. Legend says that before naming the province of La Union, Pangasinan used to be at war with the North.

Then the folks living in between began reconciling both provinces. That's when it was started to be called La Union or The Union.

But that's not the discovery I'm referring to here. It's something more exciting than that.

Recently we went to La Union to attend a funeral and along the way I discovered some things new to me.

First, it was my first time to use the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX). It only took us from a few minutes to about an hour to reach our destination from Balintawak. After a continuous drive passing by Tarlac and Pangasinan overlooking vast acres of rice fields and mango orchards, we found ourselves already in Binalonan, Pangasinan.

After the bridge that connect Binalonan to La Union, we felt hungry and looked for a nice place to lunch. Along MacArthur highway in Sto, Tomas (to your right when going to San Fernando), we discovered this fine eatery serving superb native Ilocano dishes---KAMBAK.

At first, I wondered what KAMBAK was all about. I thought the ad concept was that you'd "come back" (kambak) to the place after you get a taste of how good the food dishes are. But after we asked management, it turned out the resto's specialties are Kambing and Baka native dishes. Thus, KAMBAK. The menu sounded interesting and we ordered dishes that sounded the most exciting.

Aside from the popularly known dishes like pinakbet, dining-ding and pinapaitan, we tried Kinigtot (which we were told meant "surprised" beef). But the pinakbet was far from being just ordinary. So with the dining-ding and pinapaitan. Aside from being authentic, the flavors were enhanced so that each bite tickled your appetite more. The kinigtot tasted like pinapaitan without the bitter taste.

Sunset at the beach from our hotel's window and terrace.
San Fernando,La Union.
We also tried their binagoongan rice, kilawing kambing, bagnet, bagnet pinakbet, tinolang native chicken (which was so tasty and the chicken meat was tender), and sinigang salmon head. They were all perfect.

After lunch, we decided we'd definitely come back to KAMBAK on our way back home.

When we got to San Fernando, we looked for a hotel. There were few hotels in the city. After we did, and after a short nap, we looked around and found this view of the sea that highlighted the sunset. The hotel itself wasn't that nice but the beachfront at the back somewhat compensated for the lack. When we got back from the funeral, we found the beds comfy enough and the air-conditioning working. There was water in the bathroom and toilet. That was good enough for a cheap hotel.

Hotel in San Fernando.
Oh, during the funeral, we were treated to a dinner where I tasted crunchy and tasty fried "espada" or sword fish partnered with fresh tomatoes. The triangular suman (rice cake wrapped in leaves) cooked in gata or coconut milk was delectable and creamy.

Back to the hotel, which was beginning to be a mystery to me. The picture above is the hotel's corridor and staircase. When my wife first stayed here years back (also for a funeral) with her family, she told me of a scary episode. The lights turned off by themselves and there were strange knocks on the door. And she said they felt something eerie.

View of the highway in the morning. Taken
in front of the hotel.
Anyway, back to our stay there. In the morning, the hotel restaurant offered delicious breakfast, which was somewhat surprising. I didn't expect the tapa and fried egg  to be as I wanted them and the pancit guisado was superb with its fresh and really crunchy vegetables. I had several repeat servings which proved too much for my tummy. It became bloated later, but the trick was to walk some and not drink water until an hour after breakfast.

Establishments in front of the hotel.
For lunch, we roamed around San Fernando and saw a Tapa King outlet where I had pinakbet. It was unexpectedly delicious for its cheap price of only P49.00. Then we went straight for the church funeral.

After the funeral service and burial, we proceeded home and made good our promise---to be back to KAMBAK. We had almost the same menu and enjoyed them all the more. I told myself, I have to feature this resto on my blog. If you want to follow in my footsteps when traveling up North, make sure to drop by KAMBAK and sample the dishes I mentioned here. And muse how the Local Hiker also ate the same in that very restaurant. In a sense, we have crossed paths.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

What You Should See and Do in Baguio City this Time of Year!

Recto Hall Lawn, Teachers Camp.
Image from World Travel Server
Baguio is not just cool and romantic. It's full of adventures and mysteries and secrets. And yeah, don't forget about food. I remember once going there with two friends and staying in an old school building somewhere on Piko Road in La Trinidad.

What we did during nights was buy our dinner from town and then go back to our room to eat in the middle of an empty, dark and abandoned school campus. The cold wind blew hard, slowly pushing doors and windows in the classrooms around us, making ghostly creaking sounds.

Why didn't we just eat out? It was hard to get a ride home at night. So, instead of running the risk of being unable to go back to the school at night, we decided eat there. So, imagine being all alone there in the whole campus. It was exciting and mysterious.

To me, the best menus in the small-time town eateries are pinapaitan, sauteed sayote leaves, grilled porkchops and igado. But we didn't have them. What we had for dinner was sliced bread and corned beef in cans. Plus bottled water.

I tried this adventure a second time with my family and friends. Again, we stayed in an old building said to be haunted by ghosts. Nope, we didn't go there for ghost hunting. That was too dangerous, although I am experienced in prophetic spiritual warfare. We settled for the old building because the rent was cheap. And we had to keep our expenses within a tight budget.

Baguio City is full of old buildings that were built during the American occupation. Like the cabins and apartments in Teachers Camp, built in 1908 for Thomasite and American teachers, and Camp John Hay, completed by J. Franklin Bell in 1913. The mansions around Wright Park and Mansion House were mostly built in the 1920s or 1930s, probably earlier, and I'm sure they keep some secrets in them worth investigating.

Casa Vallejo was known as Dormitory 4 and served as lodging for the foremen who supervised the construction of Kenon Road. In 1923, it was leased to one named Salvador Vallejo who renovated it into a hotel. Now, that is one hotel I'd like to try the next time I visit Baguio City. I'm sure it has some mysterious secrets to reveal. It's somewhere along Session Road.

And PMA. It was set in Baguio City on September 1, 1908 on Constabulary Hill (formerly, it was in Manila). Now, the place is know as Camp Allen. The school was built in 1914. Later, in 1948, after the country won against the Japanese Imperial Army, PMA was transferred to its present site, Fort Del Pilar. The Philippine Military Academy is know as the oldest military school in Asia.

And of course, there's Brent School, Episcopalian, established in 1909 for Americans.

Yes, do visit the traditional tourists spots in Baguio City, but don't miss seeing the places above if you want to add adventure and mystery into your experience.

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